The Hockey Shift: How Long is Too Long?

Hockey Shift

When it comes to your shift, timing is everything



Whether you’re new to hockey or have been playing the game for years, taking a shift that is just the right length can be one of the toughest things to do. So how long should your shift be, and when is the best time to change?

Each team is different. Even if you don’t have a coach to help you, your teammates will likely give you guidance (one way or another!). Overall there is no perfect answer, but there are some guidelines you can keep in mind.

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How Long is Too Long?

We all play for fun, and that means everyone should get their share of ice time. An ideal shift length for recreational hockey is no more than 60 seconds—long enough to get in the play and skate hard, but not so long that your teammates get cold on the bench.

For forwards, that typically means a good, hard skate down the ice and back again. If you’re skating hard, you should be winded enough that you’re ready for a short break. Remember: as much as you might hate to give up a scoring opportunity, it’s always good practice to change when your team is heading into the offensive zone, so you don’t create a scoring chance for the other team.


“But I’m Not Tired!”

For many of us, hockey is a way to get some exercise, and that means some players are reluctant to return to the bench if they aren’t breathing hard. There’s no need to fret—you can also get a high-quality workout by doing shorter, more frequent intervals.

And while not every shift will be explosive, if you’re routinely not tired at the end of your shift you might want to ask yourself if you’re really skating as hard as you could be!


Follow the Leader

To help manage shift lengths, aim to have lines change together. On a forward line, the center typically initiates the change. Regardless of who leads, when one skater heads to the bench the others should follow. Just make sure to keep an eye on the play so that you don’t accidentally create an opportunity for your opponent to get a breakaway.


“They Just Won’t Come Off the Ice!”

It’s bound to happen: A skater stays out longer than they should and someone on the bench is unhappy. Often, it’s completely unintentional—your teammate didn’t want to change going into the defensive zone and they got stuck. But if you have a player who routinely takes longer shifts than everyone else, you need to let them know. In most cases they just don’t realize it, and they’ll feel badly for putting someone out.

Whether you mention it yourself, or ask your coach or captain to do so, speaking up is a better alternative than retaliating with your own long shifts. Fresh legs have a better chance at scoring goals and, ultimately, it’s more fun for everyone when we share the ice fairly by keeping our shifts to the right length.

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